|Top: Liu Lihong, mother of Zhang Yang and Liu Hui, shows a photograph of two of her children, who were slain on Wednesday along with her niece. Zhao Yun / for China Daily|
A fireworks factory owner has confessed to abducting and killing three children in Hunan province, police said on Sunday.
Zhang Xingyan was detained on suspicion of homicide after the bodies of a boy, 8, and two girls, both 9, were discovered in a forest.
The 33-year-old is accused of abducting the children in Yueyang county on Wednesday morning as they went to school. He then drove them in his black BYD car to a forest in nearby Linxiang and killed them, police said.
Police said Zhang knew the victims, who lived in his village.
All three children left for school at 6 am on Wednesday. At about 9 am, Zhang Nianyong told police he received a call from a teacher saying his grandson had not arrived.
His son Zhang Bin went to the school and discovered his stepdaughter and niece were also missing.
The next day, the family received a call from a man demanding 900,000 yuan ($147,550) who warned them not to contact the authorities. Believing the children had been kidnapped, the family called police for help.
Authorities said in a statement on Sunday that Zhang Xingyan was detained at a teahouse on Friday and later confessed to killing the children.
Beijing News reported Zhang runs a fireworks workshop and had large gambling debts.
However, a Yueyang police officer who gave only his surname, Pan, told China Daily: "He killed the children before he asked for the money.
"Why he did it in this order and what his motive was are still under investigation."
Pan said the children's badly beaten bodies were found close to each other at the bottom of a mountain in Linxiang, but declined to give further details.
More than 40 officers are working on the case to collect evidence. County government officials are helping to comfort the families and make funeral arrangements, Pan added.
Beijing Times reported that Zhang Bin accused the school bus driver, identified as Feng, of failing to inform parents that their children had not gotten on the bus, and said Feng had once left his son behind on the way home.
However, the driver said he waited about 20 minutes in the village and finally drove away to ensure other students were not late, according to the report.
"My phone had no power, so I didn't tell the parents," Feng was quoted as saying. "I came across a black car that morning and thought the children may have been taken to school in that vehicle."
The government did not reply when China Daily asked for a comment about school bus checks on Sunday.
However, Wang Ping, managing director of the Chinese Society for Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Research, said ensuring connection points are safe is also crucial for school bus security.
"Drivers should inform schools and parents immediately if students are absent," he said.